July 26, 2014

How Ahimsa Helped Me to Embrace Pain (& a Puppy). ~ Sarah Schlagter

Light Chaos

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” ~ Deepak Chopra

We all walk along our respective paths in life, hoping to maintain a certain level of comfort and safety in our given situation. We pray that nothing negative happens to upset our current condition and most of us cannot help but long for something more, something better.

In our fantasies, we envision that coming to us in a moment of grace.

That moment is filled with elation, happiness, thanks and praise. For most of us however, great change and growth does not come so simply. Rather, it is born out of despair, challenge and yes, chaos.

In May of 2013 my life was moving along just fine. I was fairly content, healthy and in love with a guy I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I was out of town on a business trip when I woke up one morning with awful pain in my hips. I rolled out my yoga mat on the hotel floor and proceeded to do my usual morning practice.

I could barely make it through.

I thought to myself that the hotel mattress must be unusually hard or something. Perhaps I slept in a poor position. I was sure it would go away. But it did not. The next morning I woke up with the same pain, plus additional pain in my shoulders. I moaned and groaned but forced myself to work out and push through my usual activities.

The next day, as I left the hotel to drive home, I knew something was wrong, as the pain had intensified severely. It had been years since I had taken any over the counter medication, but there was no question in my mind that I needed something to stop the pain. I stopped at the first drug store I could find, bought pain killers and proceeded to take twice the recommended dosage without a second thought.

Over the next seven days, the pain rapidly spread into every joint in my body. I could feel it moving outwards from my hips and my shoulders to my elbows, my knees, my fingers and my toes. It was so rapid and so intense.

Every single thing was painful—getting dressed, showering, sleeping… I could not find relief anywhere. I was at the doctor’s office almost every day for more tests, as they tried to figure out what was happening to me. I was tested for everything from MS to lupus to rheumatoid arthritis. I had blood taken from me on a daily basis. My red and white cells were all out of whack but what was causing it was a mystery.

I am a compulsive person. I am a disciplined person, often to a fault. I thrive on routine and when that routine is thrown off, I tend to freak out a bit. One of the most horrific aspects of what was happening to me was the realization that I could not work out. And believe me, I tried. It was the first time in my life that I really could not push myself through some type of work out. It was horrifying. I was terrified that I would lose my entire fitness level and never be able to do a chaturanga again.

My misery was compounded by the fact that my house, which is almost always perfectly organized and clean, was falling into (what I perceived to be) a state of chaos. I could barely bend over, let alone clean or keep up with laundry or dishes. Basically it was an OCD nightmare.

In the midst of this, I found out that my boyfriend was cheating on me and that so much I thought I knew about him was a carefully crafted lie. At the time it was devastating. I was sick to my stomach with hurt and anger.

I spent hours just curled up on the floor in a (painful) ball crying.

Almost two weeks after I returned from that business trip, I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. I spent the next couple of months recovering from the disease and my broken heart. I feel sad when I recall how painful it was, but I do not regret having gone through it because my life absolutely changed for the better as a result.

In the practice of a yoga based lifestyle, we adhere to the doctrine of Ahimsa, which simply put, means “nonviolence.” The implication, however, is much broader. Ahimsa means compassion for all living beings, and as I have come to realize, the concept should be applied as much to ourselves as it is to others.

Throughout my ordeal, I was forced to honor my body and refrain from the level of physical activity I was used to. At first I was angry and anxious. But as the days went by, I learned to truly develop a dialogue with my body. I developed honest compassion for this beautiful structure that has allowed me to accomplish so much in my life. As I started to ease back into my workout routine, I discovered that I did actually lose a bit of strength. As I flowed through my Vinyasa, I dropped to my knees in a modified chaturanga, and I was ok with that. Within a month my body had rebounded and I was back to the fitness level I was accustomed to. My body is amazing and forgiving and resilient.

I was left with the insight that my practice of Ahimsa is incomplete, if it does not include myself.

About a week after I was diagnosed, I was driving around with nowhere to go and feeling sorry for myself. I had a sudden urge to do something drastic to get my mind off of my physical and emotional pain. What “drastic” meant for me in that moment, was getting a dog. With no thought and no planning, I got an eight week old puppy, brought him home, and had no plan for what to do next. I watched this little bundle of energy run around my house, go the bathroom on the floor, chew on everything and I was both horrified and amazed.

I fell in love with Sandy the minute I saw him, and every day my love for him grows stronger. I slowly stopped caring so much about the state of my rugs or the furniture that he was chewing on, and allowed my heart to open to this incredible creature who would hop up on my chest every time I started crying, to lick my tears. Sandy turned my attention away from the negative, and made me laugh and love in a way I did not think was possible.

Today my life is different because of those painful couple of months. I have more respect and more compassion for my body. I have a best friend, child and constant companion rolled into a perfect package named Sandy. He has completely changed my life for the better.

As a single, independent female who has lived alone for the majority of her life, it is quite a drastic change. My priorities have shifted from maintaining complete order and control in my life, to just, well, loving him. Caring for him, watching him grow and observing his personality develop have strengthened my appreciation for the sentience of all creatures. Compassion for Sandy, for my body and for the process of life has helped make the principle of Ahimsa the main tenet by which I conduct myself.

Change is scary. Chaos is scarier.

Both are inevitable.

I like to think that chaos is life’s way of shaking things up. Maybe we have gotten too comfortable in our current situation, too complacent. It is up to us if we want the pieces to fall back into place, or if we want them be rearranged a bit. Maybe, in the midst of chaos, we can find brief moments to reflect on the ways in which our lives might be changing for the better.

To take it a step farther, perhaps we can take life’s chaotic moments as opportunities to make positive changes in our lives. Embrace the chaos, embrace the change, and get a puppy.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo:Kevin Dooley at Flickr 

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Sarah Schlagter